31 December 2012

Last-minute work in the studio

I currently share my home studio with a carpenter, or rather, his tools. Those tools that aren't out on a job are in the big box, which is on wheels, and until recently the big drill sat at the end of the workbench. Although he kept building cupboards for me to put my fabrics and papers and other materials in, there was simply too much stuff elsewhere in the room - in all the wrong places, of course.
The drill and box got moved into the cupboard and out of the way (making access to the cupboard difficult, despite the box's wheels!), but until this morning, access to the cupboards that aren't shown in these photos was blocked by sheets of plywood and other awkward items. And a few painting implements had taken up residence -
Not a pleasant place for getting on with creative or even humdrum work! Even the worktable under the window was overloaded. An end-of-year clean-up was needed.

Putting the tools and boards away took all of 15 minutes - the carpenter is tall and can stack things right up to the ceiling. What a difference it made -
The next phase is for me to do. Before I start using the sewing machine, my task is to fill that box with things that can be thrown out. Which isn't going to be easy - especially since the workbench is now piled high with "a few things" that need new homes. Fortunately I've been getting a bit of practice with decluttering at the weekend studio - 15 minutes at a time.

Getting rid of "craft materials" is so difficult - any of these things might come in useful ... tomorrow ...

But I'm starting to enjoy getting rid of unfinished projects - each discard is one less thing saying "finish me!"
Mission accomplished!
The workbench is clear, even the table under the window is clear, and that box is full of paper for recycling. The door opens almost all the way. And how absolutely wonderful to be able to access the cupboards - there is nothing more wearying than to have to move things aside every time.

Isn't it interesting how the 2D photo looks so very different than the room does when you're moving around in it? You learn to ignore entire areas that have become crammed with things that "need" to be kept....

And now it's time to put the Old Year to rest, and  perhaps think ahead to the New Year.

Very best wishes for a creative (and peaceful) 2013!

Reading project for 2013

image from here
Going into bookshops, I've been bewildered by the unknown names of the authors of recently-published novels. Where to start?? Recently the Guardian newspaper had a list of publishers' favourite books from 2012, and this gives a starting place, so for 2013 - my Year of Catching Up With Myself - one of my projects is to read some of the books on this list (six? ten?). Here they are, in a somewhat subjective order (some are linked to reviews in the Guardian) -

Robert Macfarlane's The Old Ways 
Light Lifting by Alexander MacLeod
Ian Sansom's Paper: An Elegy
Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl (a thriller)
Lightning Rods by Helen DeWitt
Susan Wicksl, A Place to Stop
Chris Ware's Building Stories
Sean Borodale,  Bee Journal (poetry)
Keith Ridgway's Hawthorn & Child
Karen Thompson Walker's The Age of Miracles
 Richard Holloway's memoir Leaving Alexandria
James Meek's The Heart Broke In
Kevin Powers's The Yellow Birds
 Katherine Boo's Behind the Beautiful Forevers 
Tom Holland, In the Shadow of the Sword
Ben Lerner's Leaving the Atocha Station

John Lanchester, Capital
Sombrero Fallout by Richard Brautigan
Steve Roud and Julia Bishop's New Penguin Book of English Folk Songs
The Nolympics by Nicholas Lezard
John Banville's Ancient Light
Denis Johnson's Train Dreams


Can you read it? "Happy New Year 2010" - and rotated 180 degrees, it says Merry Christmas... see them both at unterart.wordpress.com

Douglas R. Hofstadter describes an ambigram as a "calligraphic design that manages to squeeze two different readings into the selfsame set of curves." More plainly: an ambigram may be read as one or more words not only in its form as presented, but also from another viewpoint, direction, or orientation. The words readable in the other viewpoint, direction or orientation may be the same or different from the original words.

Getting going on a new project

Seeing this bark painting -
White Painting by Nyapanyapa Yunupingu (image from here)
made me get out some woolly fabric and perle thread and try to replicate the criss-cross effect. But the fabric and thread seemed to have a will of their own - or was it that the second layer got too "floaty" -
Having a few pens at hand, I started to draw criss-cross sets of lines with a Lumocolour pen (it soaked through to the back quite nicely) and then used one of the little pens, found scattered on the pavement outside a betting shop, to draw some "ravelled patches" -
The erratic nature of the blobby ink of the little pens enhanced the wobbly lines of the patches.

A short train ride gave me a chance to try these drawings with my non-dominant hand - which was hellish awkward, and added further wobble -
and also to jot down ideas for the next steps with this "memory maintenance" piece - translation from drawing to textile. Today's task is to experiment with sewing down thin strips of newspaper (as used for the "Journey to the Studio" piece) by machine and hand in the criss-cross pattern.

Having started with the idea of doing rubbings of bark and "mending" the gashes shown on them, this "memory maintenance" idea has evolved, in a few days of constantly revisiting it, via questions like: What shape is memory? does it even have a shape is or it something undefined? How are memories connected? How do we rehearse memories, how do we retrieve them?

I plan to use black fabric, various threads, and strips of newspaper. Wax and ink may make an appearance, as may other types of paper, and old photographs. Using newspaper is appropriate because of its place in time, and because of the way it will yellow and crumble; similarly, ink (used for the dark bits, perhaps) could run or fade - these would be part of the history of the piece, in the way that the memories are part of the history of an individual.

In many ways, this period of information-gathering, when the final form is still fluid, is the most exciting part of a project. It acts as a filter - you focus on information that's relevant to the project, rather than getting overwhelmed with a lot of exciting possibilities for projects-as-yet-unborn. Also, it's interesting to take what seems to be a brilliant idea and actually try it out - even if it doesn't work as planned, if you're open to surprises and critical about what's going on, it will lead to new possibilities. By "being critical" I mean assessing the success of things - keeping in mind your own criteria for what might happen further down the line, and what you originally intended - and also stepping back to assess what someone else will see in what you're doing ... is there a blatant connection that you've overlooked, that makes the piece "mean" something entirely different. Making samples is fine in terms of figuring out techniques, but it's not the only thing going on.

Yet to come:  choosing the materials - grappling with composition of the piece - and deciding its size.

30 December 2012

Desire lines

175 years of the Royal College of Art

History made visible (image from here)
If in London, you have a few days left to catch the exhibition (10am - 5.30pm, till 3 January), and can see many photos here.

End of term frolic, 1894 (image from here)
The exhibition includes both student work and later professional achievements of many alumni and faculty:  Eric Ravilious, Edward Bawden, Lucie Rie, Sir James Dyson, Eric Parry, David Adjaye, Tord Boontje, Ron Arad, Graphic Thought Facility, Neville Brody, Lady Elizabeth Butler, Dame Barbara Hepworth, Henry Moore, David Hockney, Eduardo Paolozzi, Tracey Emin, Chris Ofili, George Shaw, Spartacus Chetywnd,  Sir Hugh Casson, David Mellor, Lucienne Day, Robin Day, David Gentleman, John Piper, Thomas Heatherwick David Hockney, Peter Kennard, Ekua McMorris, Frank Auerbach, Felicity Aylieff, Ron Arad, Dunne & Raby, Konstantin Grcic, Gertrude Jekyll, Sir Edwin Lutyens, John Bratby, Jo Stockham, Stephen Farthing, Mary Restieaux, Bill Gibb, Zandra Rhodes, Ossie Clarke, Brothers Quay, Richard Wentworth. Etc.
In a Leicester Boot Factory by Sylvia Pankhurst (image from here)
A surprise was the 1907 watercolour of workers in a boot factory by suffragette Sylvia Pankhurst, daughter of Emmeline and sister of Christabel. During her studies she spent some time incarcerated in Holloway Prison, and after graduation went round northern England recording the conditions of women workers. (Read about the tour here.)

The design work of Christopher Dresser (1834-1904) was also a revelation - the kettle in the centre was designed in 1880 -
tableware by Christopher Dresser; image from here
The Government School of Design was created in 1837 to train young craftsmen and artisans for work in the ceramics, textiles, and ornamental crafts of Britain’s manufacturing industries. The great debate on whether the institution should include fine art in its curriculum was finally resolved when the school - long since renamed - attained independent status in the 1960s. Applied art had been seen largely in terms of its usefulness to industry and its ability to raise the standards of British manufactured goods and in turn, balance of trade. But the interests of its students were otherwise... Yet even now the RCA has a strong reputation on the design front.
Edward Johnston's font is still used on the London Underground (image from here)

29 December 2012

Winter warmers

Tea and cakes, and accessories for their presentation, continue to delight the trendsetters and yummy-mummies, if this display at the pre-xmas craft fair held in conjunction with the local farmers' market is anything to go by.

If a knitted teacosy is something you've always wanted, get a pattern and get knitting -
images from among the many here
Free patterns are here and elsewhere.

This sort of extension into "sets" is going a bit far, imho -
though  non-teapot owners might opt for this sort of thing (free pattern here) -
Oh dear, let's not get carried away -

Cyanotype. the stars, plants, etc

The blue you get with the cyanotype process is such a marvellous colour, you could drown in it - no wonder it's popular in photography and also for printing on fabric.

The "blueprint" process was invented about 1839 by John Herschel, the astronomer son of the famous Herschel who made many discoveries, including Uranus, the first planet that couldn't be seen by the naked eye, and ground his own lenses for his telescopes  - aided by his sister the amazing Caroline, who is now getting more recognition for her achievements. (btw on 12 July this year Neptune, the planet beyond Uranus, discovered in 1846, completed its first solar orbit since its discovery.)

Anna Atkins was quick to use the process and published her cyanotypes of ferns as a book in 1842, soon after invention of the process. They are sublime. (Image from here.) They bring to mind the plant studies of Blossfeldt, but this post is about cyanotype ... so let's leave Blossfeldt for another time.

More contemporarily, these bottles work rather well as an image -
Cyanotype uses two chemicals, potassium ferricyanide and ferric ammonium citrate; the related blueprint process (discovered in 1861) uses ferro-gallate in gum. In both, exposure to ultraviolet light reduces the iron, turning it grey. Blueprint needs no washing, but in cyanotype washing the print rinses off the unexposed iron, leaving the prussian blue colour.  

Online article about the al-Mutanabbi Street project

...on The Economist's books, arts, and culture blog. Read it at economist.com/blogs/prospero/2012/12/al-mutanabbi-street-starts-here.

Personal stories bring the project close to us. "Lutfiya al-Dulaima, an Iraqi fiction writer now living in Jordan, wrote affectingly about the significance of the street to all writers. “I was a mere small woman without a place in this world. Then I was born on al-Mutanabbi Street the day my first book was published,” she writes. Ms al-Dulaima recently reported on the project for a Baghdad newspaper, but she says it is still little-known in Iraq."

The exhibition schedule, which now extends to 2014, is here.

28 December 2012

Poetry Thursday - Chestnut Tree by Tadeusz Rozewicz

chestnut in spring, so glorious
Oops, with it being holiday time, I've lost track of the days, so here's "Poetry Thursday" on a Friday!

This poem is translated from Polish, and has an interesting use of "forebodes" - which in 1664 meant "to announce beforehand"; in 1603, "have a presentiment of" ... "Foreboding: The action of Forebode; hence, a prediction, a presage. Now only of evil." 

Chestnut Tree

It's the saddest thing to leave
home on an autumn morning
where nothing forebodes a timely return

The chestnut tree Father planted
in front of the house grows before our eyes

Mother is tiny
you can carry her in your arms

jars stand on the shelf
and the fruit preserves inside them
are like goddesses whose sweet lips
retain the taste
of eternal youth

the army of soldiers in the corner of the drawer
will remain tin till the end of the world

and God almighty who mixed
bitterness into the sweetness
hangs on the wall helpless
and badly painted

Childhood is like the worn-out face
on a gold coin that rings

Tadeusz Różewicz

translated from the Polish by Joanna Trzeciak
Sobbing Superpower: Selected Poems [this won the 2012 Griffin Poetry Prizer]
Volume 95, Number 4
Copyright © 2011 by Joanna Trzeciak

Other poems (in English) by Różewicz are here.

Using chance in drawing

John Cage, Where R=Ryoanji: (R3), 1983; drypoint; 7 x 21 inches; published by Crown Point Press (image from here)
"To internalize chance in the making of work is to avoid traditional composition, relieving the artist of the process of decision making. What is ultimately at stake in the uses of chance is the artist’s subjectivity, as questions of intentionality, rationality, decision are virtually bypassed. Virtually bypassed, though, and not completely negated: the ‘production’ of chance in the work of art is guaranteed only by conditions established in advance by the artist." So said Pamela M Lee in the "Afterimage" book I used as a source text for one of the "over-writing" pieces.

The process artists she's talking about welcomed chance - influenced by John Cage, and harking back to the methods of Dada.

Another drawing project centred on chance, Chance Finds Us, is here. In 2011 eight artists with a similar artistic practice based in North East England came together in the project.

"Chance left free to act  falls into an order as well as a purpose," said Gerard Manley Hopkins.
Chance and Order Group VII, Drawing 6 (1971) by Kenneth Martin is held by the Tate

Art I like - Sungyee Kim

meditation 12/domino 3, 2010, sumi ink and mixed media on panel, 30x30 (image from here)
"In her densely layered paintings, artist Sungyee Kim incorporates the principles of I Ching with the Taoistic pursuit of becoming one with material as in the Transformation of Things, the Buddhist concept of the whole universe within a single dust particle and the sword-polishing spirit of traditional metal-smiths. The result of these repetitive yet unique gestures of layering and erasing is an aesthetic residue which visualizes a consistent mind of self-cultivation. In both form and content, her paintings enact the coexistence of material presence and illusion, reflecting the inherent connectedness of microcosm and macrocosm."

The paintings provide a way to lose yourself in their intricacies. The slide show of her work (see it here) is entrancing, soothing, hypnotic.


Found photos of Christmas cards from years past -
  • handmade paper trees that didn't work as well as hoped
  • collages made from envelopes of cards received, a project for an on-my-own xmas day
  • blank books with fancy-patterned brown-paper covers
  • little stitcheries (these were for sale at an exhibition)
  • "winter fare" cookbook pamphlets with tissue-paper collage
  • handmade felt with stitched trees
Nowadays, like an increasing number of people, I send greetings by email; since 2001, they have been New Year greetings, at first sent in the post. These examples are from here.

"Folded star" book structure

So many possibilities! (image from here)
In April I made a note,in a draft blog post, of the link to a structure called "folded star" - intending to make one as a "book du jour". On revisiting the draft post, I find a coincidence - it is the same as the "snake book" that I found when starting to make the teeny-tiny map books. Obviously, it's a sign to try out this way of connecting the folded pages ... more on that later, perhaps ...

For a tutorial, go to http://www.boomboxbindery.com/2009/06/folded-star-book-tutorial.html

Art I like - Jan Myers-Newbery

Pure pleasure, letting your eye rove round to look at the nuances and conjunctions of colours, and the depth and disruptions of the angular shibori patterning.

Jan Myers-Newbery is one of six artists featured in SAQA Showcase at International Quilt Study Center and Museum, Lincoln, Nebraska, till 24 February (or view the exhibition online, here).

"She has made her “fabric-driven” quilts, without any preliminary design work, for the past twenty years. Her experiments in the dye process produce distinct and sometimes commanding patterns and color layering. She combines the fabrics in ways wherein they speak to one another and to her."

She was asked in an email interview - What would you like viewers to remember about your works? Her answer: "I would like the viewer to find beauty in my work, and to understand the great pleasure I derive from the act of making each quilt."

It works for me. See more of her work on her website, or here.

27 December 2012


I suddenly wondered - when people say that an exhibition was inspiring, or that they're looking for inspiration, what do they actually mean?
But was it inspiration? (image from here)
The thesaurus gives several entries where 'inspiration' can be found - causation, influence, respiration, intuition, intelligence, imagination, diffuseness, inducement, contrivance, warm feeling, excitation, excitable state, revelation, piety.

To inspire, it suggests, is to cheer, give courage, or make pious.

Inspired relates to being intuitive, diffuse, forceful, induced, scriptural, revelational, pietistic -- and inspiring, to causal, influential, exciting.

What do we take from an inspiring exhibition, then? The artist's influence on us, perhaps ... a stirring of our imagination, that induces us to make our own work; it reveals something, gets us excited or gives us a warm feeling, cheers us up perhaps, or gives us courage to think about difficult things.

Or perhaps simply that we understand the artist, the work, the world, ourselves, a little better?

Art I like - Sue Lawty

At last year's Bite Sized Textiles exhibition, Sue Lawty's little lead-thread piece caught my eye. Just now, a close-up of another lead piece, on the Transition & Influence website, caught my eye -
Oh my, the gleam of the smooth metal - the soft metal - a dangerous metal. (No longer found in paint or in fuel; but still in contaminated soil near roadways and in deteriorating old paint ...  if you're typesetting, don't forget to wash your hands.)
Lead Weave (detail); image from here
And the flow of the forms - so easy-looking, a graceful metal ... though she's going with the flow, she is bending the metal to her will. It is an accommodating medium, up to a point.
"Calculus" (image from here)
Her work includes the "stone drawings" - accumulations of pebbles glued to a wall, very time consuming (to find, to sort, to arrange, to affix); definitely time-based work.

Her work "develops ideas of individuality and universality". Of unconventional uses of traditional practices.

Pushing the envelope. Tiptoeing near dangerous ground. In an alluring way. Restraint; balance; tension; rhythm. Simplicity; there's just enough happening...

Fresh air

After a while you need to get out of the house, rain or no rain. Taking our flimsy and broken umbrellas, we braved the wind and gloom and went to the top of Parliament Hill (95m above sea level) -
 and found it muddy -
Not a lot of people about - altogether we saw six runners, four dogs and their walkers, and two solitary walkers with umbrellas.

Everywhere was muddy or flooded, or both -
 At Hampstead Mixed Bathing Pond, the sign says "No swimming" ("Danger sudden drop") -
 and all year long, you are reminded to keep off the ice: "Ice Kills".


Cup or platform?
Since seeing Betty Goodwin's engraving of a nest on Judy's blog, I've been looking for "leftover nests" in the wintery trees.

And wondering about nests. (The study of birds' nests is called caliology.)

It's not just birds that build nests:

says wikipedia.

Furthermore, birds' nests come in various types:

25 December 2012

Things found in books

Charles Dickens' annotations to his text, for one of his public readings. The book sits on a reading lecturn that he designed - he was particular about all those little details.

Doorsteps on Doughty Street

The houses on Doughty Street, Bloomsbury, were built between 1790 and 1840. On the way to the Dickens Museum (no. 48) we saw some wonderful doorsteps -